You’re Not Helping

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A contested election. Out of control pandemic numbers. Unemployment. Turmoil.

These are the times we are living in right now. As I write this, there are more people in the hospital with Covid-19 than at any point in the pandemic. In El Paso, there are more people hospitalized than there are in several states. Grim warnings about the holidays and the danger they pose make our regular family get togethers even more complicated. Everything feels so out of control, because it mostly is.

There are some things we do have control over. One of these is your reaction to those who have family members who are fighting the coronavirus or have a family member who died from it. I can’t promise I have always had the correct reaction to news of this sort, but my own experience with this, and with my experience many years ago when my mother was dying of cancer, helped me understand some of the things you shouldn’t say.

I have sadly listened as friends and family members have recounted some of the callous things people have said to them. “Did they take HCQ? That might have helped them.” “How do you know they really died from Covid? The doctors are lying about it to make money.” Or the always classic, “I don’t think that is what (insert family member’s name here) died from. People are putting that on death certificates because they hate Trump.”

Even if every one of these statements were valid (and I can assure you, they’re not), what in the world would make you think this is comforting to grieving people?

When my mother died from cancer, she was 50. A beautiful, elegant and quiet woman, she really never looked a day over 40. I was 21 when she died, and now that I am older, I understand even better how young she really was and how much of her life was snuffed out by cancer. I remember the words of well meaning friends that, in their efforts to say something comforting, instead said things that were tortuous at the time. For example:

“Your mom looks so good. Surely she isn’t really that sick (said two days before her death).” “Well, you knew her death was coming, right? That must have helped.” “Don’t you think your mom would want you to move on after her death? She wouldn’t want you to be sad.”

I could give you more, but you get the idea. I truly believe all of the things people said were said out of love and trying to help, but the truth is, there are no words, no pat answers, that can make the grief and helplessness better. What most people meant to help usually came off as dismissive. The only things people said that were of comfort were things like, “I love you and your family.” “I’m so sorry.” or, “I thought a lot of your mom. I am praying for you all.”

Relating all of this to the comfort of our friends and acquaintances who are going through Covid in a more personal way than you are: if you truly want to comfort someone, but don’t know what to say: nothing is better than saying something you shouldn’t. Relating how most of the people you know that had Covid were asymptomatic or had mild symptoms only makes things worse. Asking tons of specific questions about treatment is often exhausting to the person answering all of those questions. And if you are going to bring up your own politicized views about covid to a grieving person, just go ahead and slap them in the face while your saying them, because that is exactly what it feels like.

If you really want to help someone, and we now all know someone who has lost a loved one to this disease, try following the mitigation efforts so we can put this behind us. Acknowledge their grief instead of trying to minimize it. Send a card. Show support. If you’re a praying person, pray for comfort for those affected. And try your best not to stick your foot in your mouth and make someone who is already heartsick feel even worse. I can’t promise I will always succeed, but I am going to give it my best effort. I hope you will, too.

Two Truths and a Lie

An image of one of the Proud Boys at the Capitol. The “6MWE” stands for “6 Million Weren’t Enough”, a reference to the number of Jews killed during the Holocaust.

The events of Wednesday, January 6, 2021, will be forever etched in our minds and our history books. Unless you are living under a rock, you are aware that the Capitol building was breached by an angry mob and that five people died as a result of this breach. I will never forget watching this unfold on live television: I sat and wept as I saw what looked like the destruction of democracy in our country.

We, as a country, have been playing the game “Two Truths and a Lie.” In case you are unfamiliar, this is a game played in a group setting, where each person comes up with two truths and a lie about themselves, and can hopefully lie well enough that other group members, including those that know them well, can’t figure out which of the statements shared are false.

Here are what I see as two truths about our country that were emphasized again during the horrendous event at the Capitol this week:

Racism in policing and perception is alive and well. One of the most striking differences in how the police handled Wednesday’s event has been pointed out by many. The protests in Washington D.C. in the summer of 2020 were were met with an aggressive, large police force supplemented by the FBI, National Guard, and other special units. I would also contend that if people protesting had tried to do something like this last summer, they would never have made it inside the building, at least not without extreme force being used. Selfies with the mob by some policemen inside the building, excuses that the Capitol Police did not expect things to turn this way– all show a total lack of leadership by that department. I am not saying that every policeman or woman there is racist. I am saying that racist treatment is highlighted by the fact that all sorts of warning signs over what might happen were ignored by leadership. Many officers acted heroically and did their jobs as they were directed. Some did not.

Religious leaders do not belong in politics. I am a Christian. I am also an American. When Christian leaders began to get involved in politics and tried to gain influence over legislation and leaders, the purpose was to grab power, which goes completely against all of Jesus’ teaching. He was never interested in power, and warns against the lure of power in the New Testament. Our Constitution guarantees freedom of religion. Attempts to try to strongarm our leaders to follow a Christian agenda have caused more problems than they have solutions. The desire for power in our government by some well meaning, but misguided evangelical Christians have hurt the message of Christ and caused damage that may be irreparable.

The statements above are the truth. Here is the lie:

I can support Donald Trump’s policies without supporting his rhetoric. What he says doesn’t really matter as long as he supports policies I agree with. The problem with this statement is that WORDS MATTER. Anyone paying attention to the days and weeks leading up to the Trump rally on January 6 could see mounting problems and promises of violence. This consistent lie that has been repeated by so many people is, in a large part, what made the horrific events at the Capitol possible. It gave Trump a free pass to lie, demean and bully whenever he wanted. It gave him the unchecked effort to manipulate his supporters into believing the lie that he won the election, even though virtually every legal challenge failed and there has been no credible evidence of widespread fraud presented in a court of law. He has repeatedly made incendiary statements that inflamed fringe groups like Proud Boys and QAnon to believe they needed to take violent action against our government. His constant references to anyone who doesn’t follow him as the enemy have caused a huge number of people to believe the lie that everyone who doesn’t agree with him is Communist, Socialist, or worse.

This is not to say that every person at the protest January 6 went there with a violent purpose in mind. Most of the people at the protest were people who love this country and want to see change. Many of you who support Trump want to believe that what happened Wednesday was attributable to Antifa, BLM, or other groups. The truth is that much of the blame lies on Donald Trump’s shoulders, as well as the congressmen and women who chose to give credence to the lies he and his sycophants have incessantly repeated. The rest of the blame is on all of us.

Why is the blame on all of us? Well, for starters, our dialogue in this country has devolved into retreating into a corner with like-minded people and throwing verbal grenades at the other side. The only thing that has done for our country is to divide us further. I am as guilty as anyone else of doing this. In fact, Wednesday morning I had to apologize to a friend for making a flip comment on a post she had made that was entirely unnecessary and unfair. We must commit as a nation to listening to each other ,to having hard conversations with people on the other side, and to trying to understand why they believe the way they do. It doesn’t mean we will agree on everything. It doesn’t mean the conversations will be without strong feelings. As one of my conservative friends said, “I won’t be joining hands with everyone and singing ‘Kumbaya’.” But we must be willing to seek understanding and try to work together. Our democracy won’t survive if we don’t.

On a final note: please understand that groups like QAnon thrive on playing a game very similar to Two Truths and a Lie. They are masters at wrapping a total lie in a couple of truths so that is hard to separate one from the other. Donald Trump has done the same thing: he will often, in his rhetoric, wrap a total lie with a few true statements. He then repeats the lies so much that he, along with his supporters, believe the lie because they have heard it so many times. This behavior was one of the main reasons a protest, which could have remained peaceful, turned into a day of infamy in the citadel of our democracy.

Let’s all take responsibility for what happens next. Let’s talk to one another and listen to one another. Let’s stop posting crap on social media that we have not checked for validity just because it supports what we want to believe. And let’s get back on the road of trying to heal the serious problems of racism, tribalism, and division in our country.

It’s time to stop playing games.

The Christmas present that changed my life

Sometimes events happen that we don’t realize the importance of until much, much later. A $50 Christmas bonus check during my freshman year of college was the start of something life-changing for me.

As an entering freshman at the University of Oklahoma, I was awarded a work study job to help pay for college. Getting a job was required for me, a girl who had no financial help from her parents (four in college at the same time made it impossible for my parents to help much, so they wished each of us well and cheered us on), so I began the process of looking for a job.

My first interview went poorly, to say the least. It was in the School of Business, and they were looking for a crackerjack typist. I could type, but was average at best. They had me take a speed test and I could tell they were unimpressed. I left feeling a little defeated.

My second interview was with a music theory professor in the School of Music. I checked in at the main office, and the secretary sent me to Holmberg Hall 212. I knocked on the door, and was welcomed into the office of a gray haired, serious looking woman. She asked me if I knew how to type. My heart sank. I told her yes, but I was just pretty average, so if she was looking for a speedy typist, I probably wasn’t a good fit for the job. She looked at me with kind eyes, and asked a second question:

“Do you know how to read music?” she asked. I had played the flute in the sixth grade, and had continued to play just for fun in high school. “Yes, I can read music,” I answered. She explained that part of my job would be finding music in the OU Music Library, so it would be necessary for me to take sheet music with me to find the exact part of a piece she needed recorded for her classes. This was a little mystifying to me, so I didn’t ask any questions. She seemed satisfied that these were the two skills needed for the job, so she told me to fill out the necessary paperwork downstairs, and I would start the first day of classes. I would make $2.00 an hour, which was 40 cents above minimum wage. I was elated.

My new boss was Dr. Gail de Stwolinski, whom I found out later was considered one of the finest theory professors in the nation. I was an English major, so walking into the School of Music was like landing on Mars at times. I found out quickly that “Dr. Dee”, as her students called her, was one busy lady. I would walk into her office after class, and there would be a long list of duties for me: photocopy papers, record numerous pieces of music onto cassette tapes (a new technology in 1974), pick up lunch from the sandwich shop on campus corner, etc. I tried my best to do everything she asked of me, and by Thanksgiving, I felt a rhythm in our relationship: I would come in and get her tasks done, she would come in at some point to return phone calls, work, and chain smoke. She would always thank me for working hard, but I really just thought what I was doing was fun, and I was making $2.00 an hour! After Thanksgiving, Glenda in the main office looked at me and said, “She must really like you.”

“Why do you say that?” I asked. She replied, “Because by this point in the semester, all her other assistants have either quit or were fired.” I was stunned, but also secretly proud.

As the semester ended, I went to work for the last time until after Christmas break. Dr. Dee was in her office, smoking and working on one of her many projects. She handed me an envelope, and told me Merry Christmas. I took it but didn’t quite know whether or not I should open it, so I tucked it in my books for later. I wished Dr. Dee Merry Christmas, and headed back to my dorm room to get ready to go home for the break. When I opened the envelope, it held a check for $50.

Fifty dollars was more than a week’s pay at my job. I sat down on my bed to keep from falling. I sobbed tears of relief and joy. At that moment, I had literally 75 cents in my purse, and maybe two dollars in my checking account. No money for Christmas presents for my family. No money for anything. It would be like getting $50,000 today.

That was the beginning of the ways Dr. Dee changed my life. Soon after this, I filed for financial aid for the upcoming school year. For whatever reason, I didn’t qualify for work study for my second year, which meant the end of this particular job. Dr. Dee wasn’t having it, though. She wanted me to work for her. She devised a plan where she set up a bank loan to me, through her husband, who was president of a local bank board. They “loaned” me the money, then immediately paid the loan off for me. She did this for the next two years. Please understand, I am a realist: there were other students out there that could do this job as well as I did. Dr. Dee saw something in me she wanted to encourage and support, and was willing to give her own money to see that happen.

Not only did she bail me out financially, Dr. Dee showed me the tremendous impact one woman could have in a community. She was the first woman at OU to hold the position of president of the faculty senate. She wrote a nationally-recognized textbook while I was working for her. She invited me to Sunday dinners which were attended by some of the most respected in their areas on the OU campus. She continually counselled students in her office over personal and practical struggles. She was my mentor, friend, and role model.

Gail de Stwolinski fostered a confidence in me that didn’t exist up to that point in my life. It all started with a $50 bonus check at Christmas. May she rest in power. And may all of you receive a bonus in your life that helps you learn that you, too, are so valuable and special in your own way.

Merry Christmas!

Dr. Gail de Stwolinski, sitting at her desk in the office that changed my life.

How will we be remembered?

“The price of greatness is responsibility.” Winston Churchill

A considerable number of books and articles have been written about the Greatest Generation, and their courage, grit and determination throughout the Great Depression and World War II. Despite a horrible economy and enemies who threatened to destroy much of the free world, our ancestors soldiered on, doing whatever was needed whenever it was needed. No sacrifice was considered too small. In my mother’s high school yearbooks (circa 1944-46), instead of photos of the baseball and football teams, there were pictures of Junior ROTC groups. Sports took a pause during World War II. Sound familiar? There were, of course, countless other sacrifices, but you get the idea.

Many people have discussed the lack of a unified response in this country in the approach to COVID and the pandemic. Indeed, our president and the governors of each state have themselves been deeply divided on how to manage this deadly disease. If you will indulge me for a moment, I would like you to consider a few things as we continue to fight the pandemic fight:

How would you like to be remembered for this moment in our collective history? I used to ask this question when interviewing officer candidates for my dance team. It was a great question because most of the girls haven’t given it much thought. Some were unable to answer at all; some gave answers that were fairly predictable, such as they would like to be remembered as a good dancer or as a nice person. A very few were able to give an answer that showed thoughtfulness or broad perspective.

So, I will ask again: How would you like to be remembered?

Will you be remembered as one of the many people who were willing to sacrifice individual freedoms for the collective good of your friends, family and neighbors? Will you be able to tell your grandchildren about the year holidays were quiet because you weren’t willing to risk the health of others? Will you share the story about the family member who died because someone they came in contact with had infected them with COVID because they refused to wear a mask and did not alter their lifestyle to keep people safe? Will you tell them about getting a vaccine that was developed quickly, but in spite of the risks, you were willing to take to help eradicate COVID? Perhaps you will share the story of how your football season came to an end because the virus was spreading through the team so games were forfeited to keep people safe.

It is also possible your account of this historical time will be a proud defense of your individual freedoms: by golly, no one was going to tell me what I could or could not do. I had every right to move freely in public spaces. No one was going to keep me from attending church and singing my lungs out. After all, these freedoms are part of being American. It was my constitutional right then, and now.

Although our leaders have failed to present a united front on the best way to mitigate this virus, we, as Americans, can rise to the occasion. We can choose to sacrifice for a few more months to keep even more people from dying. Even though we haven’t done such a great job just yet, it’s not too late to start. If every single one of us commits to following all of the guidelines– and yes, I do believe it is possible– we can start reducing the numbers of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. Thankfully, vaccinations have begun, but we are still months away from any type of return to normalcy.

I still believe most Americans want to do what is right and good for the safety and health of our country. I still believe people are willing to sacrifice whatever is necessary to ensure that fewer people die from this deadly and debilitating disease.

So, I ask again: how would you like to be remembered? You are making history with your choices each and every day. No sacrifice is too small. If every single person chooses to wear masks in all public places, it will make a difference. No large sacrifice will be in vain: giving up family gatherings for a few months will have a great impact on the overall infection rate. We all have the power to determine how this plays out. Will you be in the group that helped in the fight, or will you be one of those who hindered it? It really is up to each of us, and we the people can write our own history by the choices we make. It’s not too late to change yet, but we are running out of time.

Our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents were part of The Greatest Generation. What will our title be in the history books?

Broken glass everywhere

As Bob Dylan would say, “The times, they are a-changin’.”

Last week Sarah Fuller, a goaltender for Vanderbilt women’s soccer, was the placekicker for the Vanderbilt football team in their game against Missouri. She only kicked once, but by all accounts, it was an excellent kick. (I am far from a football expert so I am repeating what I read from people who do know). Apparently the Vandy coach had run out of options for a placekicker due to COVID issues, injuries, etc. So he got creative and asked Fuller to help him out. She became the first woman to participate in a Power 5 football game.

The reaction online fell into two camps. First, the positive:

“Incredibly rare to be the ‘first ever person to do something’ these days… this is really cool.” Pat McAfee.

“I watched Sarah Fuller kick off with my two girls, and we all clapped and my eyes welled up with tears… As a child, I sat on the couch with my dad so many years ago wishing I could play football, too.” Andrea Adelson, ESPN

The other camp, which I will call the 2020 Woman-hater Rude Camp, had things like this to say (since these are direct quotes, I have left any grammatical and punctuation errors intact):

“I can’t quit laughing at this! I hope she made team some cookies too!

“Any leaked nudes???”

“I hope someone cleans her clock”

“Hope she gets broke in half”

“Gang bang in the locker room”

If these were middle school boys, I could at dismiss their lack of class and rudeness and chalk it up to immaturity. But these are adult men. These men are sad examples of why we need to stop standing back and shrugging our shoulders when reactions like these are shared.

Sarah Fuller is a goalkeeper on a nationally ranked soccer team. She is 6’2″, in excellent physical condition, and is a kicking specialist. On her helmet, the words, “play like a girl” were written. Girls all across America celebrated. Most of the feedback was positive, but we still have those pesky, insecure people who want to undermine and diminish any accomplishment that doesn’t fit their limited world view. Women might not be fighting the same battles as years ago, such as the right to vote, or the right to equal pay (still fighting that one), but there are plenty of subtle, insidious hurdles women must work hard to get over.

Growing up, I watched football with my dad and thought it was such an exciting, interesting game. It never occurred to me that a woman might have a place in the sport. I also never dreamed we would have a woman vice-president. A mother with children still at home on the Supreme Court. Yet all of these landmarks have been reached recently.

I am a traditionalist in many ways, but I hope I am never so stuck in tradition that I think people should not be able to reach for the stars, strive for their goals, and shatter glass ceilings. Whether I agree with them on a political level or not, I celebrate the fact that Kamala Harris and Amy Coney Barrett have achieved their ambitions. And I also celebrate Sarah Fuller, who showed a lot of little girls that love to kick that they too, may get to play football one day. And I look forward to the day that it is not a big deal when a woman’s name appears on a football roster, a presidential ticket, or a Supreme Court short list. And I fully denounce anyone who thinks making fun of these accomplishments is cute, funny, or acceptable. The reason Fuller, Harris, and Barrett have accomplished what they have is because they are qualified. They meet every criteria; they are not “token” placements in a position, but instead are excellent candidates for the positions that they have. As a culture, we need to work harder to make the kind of blow back that says such demeaning things as “I hope she gets creamed” totally unacceptable.

The importance of gratitude, and other things I wish I had learned sooner

I have a confession to make: sometimes I’m a little slow.

Okay, so maybe sometimes I am really slow.

Slow to learn. Slow to understand. Slow to see the importance of things staring me right in the face.

I wish it hadn’t taken me to get to retirement age to figure out some of the most important things in life. This pandemic has helped me in this regard: it has made me slow down and reflect in ways I just didn’t take the time to do before. So in that way, I am thankful for this pandemic.

Here are a few of the things I have learned that I wish I had learned a bit more quickly:

The little, everyday things really are the most precious things in this life. A sip of strong, hot coffee. A baby’s giggle. The way the sunlight is different in autumn, giving everything it shines on a glow. Pay attention to these things instead of worn-out recliner in your living room you would like to replace, or the telemarketer’s annoying calls.

You can wear a mask without giving up your freedom. You can sacrifice for the good of others without compromising your values. It’s called loving your neighbor.

Everyone you meet has value and deserves dignity. You will never regret being kind to people, even though some will repay your kindness with ugliness. Do it anyway.

You can live without cable television.

You don’t have to engage in every argument you are invited to. Just walk away, change the subject, or keep scrolling.

More stuff never made me happier. Being around the people I love is what makes me happy.

Jesus loves me. And you. And all the people you can’t stand. I can try to emulate him, but I also know I am human and will never be at his level.

Calling out hatred, injustice, and plain old meanness is just as important as loving people. There are so many people who are suffering and those of us who have so much in this country should be striving to try to make their lives better.

Although I am 64 years old, my brain still thinks I am 25.

In the end, love will always save the day.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Choose Your Hard

There is a meme that is floating around social media right now called, “Choose Your Hard.” Here is what it says:

Marriage is hard.
Divorce is hard.
Choose your hard.

Obesity is hard.
Being fit is hard.
Choose your hard.

Being in debt is hard.
Being financially disciplined is hard.
Choose your hard.

Communication is hard.
Not communicating is hard.
Choose your hard.

Life will never be easy. It will always be hard. But we can choose our hard.

What I do like about this meme is that it reinforces the idea that we all have choices to make in this life, that we are not always victims of circumstances. But like many memes, it minimizes the choices into an either/or mentality. For example, a person doesn’t always “choose” divorce”- sometimes it is thrust upon them without any discussion. Obesity isn’t always a “choice”; sometimes there are uncontrollable issues causing it. And so on.

There is, however, one difficult but necessary choice we can all make right now, with Thanksgiving looming and Christmas in the near future. It is a decision that frankly, none of us want to make. It is the choice to totally disrupt holidays for the sake of not spreading Covid.

Like many of you, we have chosen to change up our traditional Thanksgiving get together. My husband and I have hosted his family, along with several friends, at our house for over 20 years. Thanksgiving is hands down my favorite holiday, because it is the least commercial and is basically about family, food, and gratitude. It was a very tough decision to make.

It never occurred to me when health officials recommended that people limit gatherings to their immediate bubbles that some people would think this was government overreach. There have been lots of comments from all kinds of people saying something along the lines of “the government can just stay out of my family gatherings and can’t tell me who gets to come to my house.” I truly just thought health experts were emphasizing that most viral spreads occur in a setting that looks like a family gathering: indoors, people in close proximity for several hours, people who hadn’t been around one another on a daily basis. I would never think to protest wearing a seatbelt because the government was trying to control what I do in my car. Or, how dare they tell me not to text and drive? What about my First Amendment right to free speech?

Lest you think I am being a total wimp or scaredy cat about this virus, let me tell you what I have seen and heard from people that I know (not friends of friends, not posts from strangers) that are going on right now because of this virus:

I know of four people personally who have died in the past two weeks due to Covid or Covid-related hospitalizations.

A friend and former student who is a respiratory therapist at a local hospital noted that, when she has to put someone on a vent, there is a 98% chance THEY WILL NOT SURVIVE.

A friend spent the entire night in the ER because there were no rooms and/or beds available. He had already been in the hospital previously with Covid.

Another friend recently lost her dad due to a health care worker bringing Covid into the hospital. He was there recovering from surgery and was about to be released, but contracted the virus and died soon after.

I want almost MORE THAN ANYTHING to see my family and celebrate in our traditional way. I have to draw the line at risking a loved one’s health because I refused to follow the advice of health care experts. Sometimes we have to sacrifice in order to help others. I couldn’t live with myself if I thought my refusal to adjust caused someone to be denied the help they needed at the hospital, or contracted Covid and had serious or fatal issues because I was “asserting my rights.”

I am choosing to focus on gratitude instead. I am grateful that I have family that I will get to see and gather with safely– later. I am thankful that we have a comfortable place to live and never worry about where our next meal is coming from. I am so blessed to have good health. And I am thankful for public health experts who are working so hard to try and help us flatten the curve.

Matthew McConaughey said it well: “Life’s not fair. It never was, it isn’t now and it won’t ever be. Do not fall into the trap, the entitlement trap, a feeling like you’re a victim. You are not; get over it and get on with it.”

A Free and Fair Election

“Why shouldn’t there be a patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the people? Is there any better or equal hope in the world?” Abraham Lincoln

As I write this post, the 2020 presidential election is still undecided. Votes are still being counted in many states, and as far as I know, no states have certified their results. So all of us wait, some patiently, some impatiently. Some of you watch the results with hypnotic regularity, while others, like myself, have chosen to watch reruns of Seinfeld and The West Wing and just check in occasionally to see how the count is going. Some of you are drinking voluminous amounts of wine and eating Little Debbies snack cakes, which has made you feel sick, but not because of the tedious process we are all tracking.

There’s also been a lot of noise out there about how this hasn’t been a free and fair election.

If you know me personally, you know that I am no political analyst. I am a retired teacher and counselor who loves this country, no matter who the president is. So please bear with me, because along with being a teacher, I have done a lot of research from a lot of sources that helps me feel good that when the last vote is counted, we will have had yet another free and fair election. Here are a few of the things I have learned that have helped me come to this conclusion:

“Mail- in voting is subject to fraud.” There are any number of facts that really blow this statement out of the water. First of all, there are five states- Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington- who send ballots to all registered voters. Utah, a heavily Republican state, has an approximate 90% mail-in voting rate. Arizona, who has an 85% mail-in rate in this election, is still too close to call, with the lead of each candidate changing constantly. And in Pennsylvania, any and all votes that were received after election day have been sequestered and not counted in the total, since there seems to be some question about the validity of those votes. And in Oklahoma, no mail-in ballots are counted if they are not received the day before the general election.

“The poll workers are engaging in sketchy counting and are not counting all of the votes.” This claim makes a short woman (me) furious. I have friends who are poll workers, and they are some of the most honorable, hard working people I know. My mother-in-law worked for the county election board for several years, and I know she would second that statement, Every single poll worker I have ever been in contact with takes her job very seriously. And in every single polling location in the United States, there are bipartisan counters and poll watchers. Some places, like the center in Philadelphia, has a live video feed so that anyone who wants to sit and observe can do so. There has not been any need for extra observers because they are already there. And if some of these ballots aren’t “legal”, and have been hurting the president’s count, wouldn’t it stand to reason that it would also hamper the votes of Republican senators and representatives? There doesn’t seem to be any allegations of that happening.

“They are finding ballots with deceased people’s names on them.” There is literally no evidence from any fact based source of this happening in this election. A meme or tweet is not evidence: it is probably disinformation. Please act like a responsible citizen and stop sharing things that are undocumented. The actual evidence of anyone voting using someone else’s identity is statistically insignificant, and that has been checked out by both parties.

“It shouldn’t take this long to count ballots, so there must be something fraudulent going on.” This doesn’t make sense for a lot of reasons, but I will just give you a few: One, there is an unprecedented number of people who voted in this election, which I view as a wonderful thing. Secondly, because of the huge number of absentee and mail-in ballots, it is taking so much longer to count than it did in the last election. And perhaps most importantly, poll workers are being very careful and methodical about their counting, because they want to be accurate and avoid the fiasco of the 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore.

“The Trump campaign is filing lawsuits to reveal the fraud that is going on.” There have already been numerous lawsuits filed, and all have been dismissed except for one, and that contested the distance the poll watchers were standing from the poll workers counting ballots. That issue was quickly resolved when poll watchers were moved from ten feet away to six feet away. All other suits so far have been dismissed as frivolous. If votes totals in any state are close enough for a recount, I would hope they are recounted. And rather than making vague claims about voter fraud, it would be so much more helpful to just present the evidence in court and let the system work. I refuse to listen to undocumented claims of chicanery where no real evidence exists. If there is evidence of fraud, that should be prosecuted no matter who it favors.

Here are some things I hope we all can agree on: our election process has always been the envy of the world, and all of these unsubstantiated allegations tarnish our image. All citizens should desire a free and fair election, and just because the process of voting has adjusted to society, that doesn’t mean it isn’t fair. It is absolutely wonderful that we have had a record turnout of voters, because that truly is democracy in action. And lastly, we will all be glad when the counting is over, because if you are like me, my patience is not always where it should be.

Our system, while often messy and inefficient, is still the greatest there is. A much bigger issue for us in this country is the horrible division we are all seeing right now, and that is a problem that cannot be decide in a court of law. It must be solved by people like you and me. It will be long, hard work, but necessary if we want our country to survive. And in spite of all of the divisiveness, I still believe we can find what unites us, make concessions, and keep our country growing and thriving. When the dust finally settles after this election, let’s roll up our collective sleeves and get busy.

This is My America

“Not voting is not a protest. It is a surrender.” Keith Ellison

It is the weekend before the general election .Unless you have been living off the grid, you have no choice but to be aware of this. There are already over eighty million people who have voted absentee or through early voting, and stats such as these are so encouraging. It tells me our citizens want to participate in the election process, which is what initially set our country apart from the rest of the world.

We are a nation of strivers, and each of us has a slightly different view of what we strive for this country to be. I am going to share mine here.

There are two phrases from the U.S. Constitution that especially resonate with me: “Equal justice under the law” (14th Amendment), and “All men (people) are created equal” (Declaration of Independence). I believe, with all my heart, that these two phrases are an acid test for decision making in the voting booth. Our forefather’s radical views have not only changed our country, but have been a model around the world for other countries who seek freedom and a participatory government. One thing I have learned over the years is that someone who can disagree with me on most political things would probably still agree that these principles remain true to the pursuit of democracy. If a candidate or state question cannot pass or doesn’t support either of these two principles, they will not get my vote.

I really strive to vote in every election, because I know it is such a privilege. Louis Brandeis said, “The most important office, and the one which all of us can and should fill, is that of private citizen.” It saddens me when I go to the polls and I am one of only a handful who has voted. At one school bond issue election, I was one of a total of three people who voted at my polling place that day. That’s so disheartening, because it tells me that, more often than not, citizens aren’t willing to take even a few moments to exercise this privilege.

I have never been a fan of the Electoral College. People will try to give me all sorts of philosophical reasons why “you really want the EC, it’s in your best interest”, but I don’t buy it. I like the idea that even if the majority of my state has chosen a different candidate, my vote still counts. I also dislike the idea that electors can go against how the majority of the state voted and choose the candidate they want. I like voting in its purest form– one person, one vote.

For this election, people have been waiting for hours in the early voting lines, and voting in record numbers. People have also been mailing in votes in record numbers. There is a lot of noise out there saying that if votes aren’t received by November 3rd, they should be tossed out like they aren’t real votes. That is political doubletalk. Each state gets to decide its own voting rules, and many of them are willing to count any vote as long as it is postmarked before election day. Each state is equipped with an election board who works diligently to ensure that votes are counted as quickly as possible. And in no election in modern history have we known election results on the day of the election: please don’t take my word for it, just look it up yourself. Ever heard of President Dewey? He was the projected winner in 1948, but once the votes were finally tabulated and certified, Harry Truman was our president.

In my America, we accept the winners of elections. It doesn’t matter if I agree with their views or not, as long as they have been chosen by the people. In my America, every citizen who has followed the process of registering to vote has the right to do so within the guidelines of the state they live in. Anything less or any attempt to suppress voting is a threat to the democratic process.

In my America, the people choose who represents them– not the wealthy, not the most powerful, not even the nicest or most intelligent. Every single one of us has an equal say. So use your power, go vote, or shut your mouth and stop complaining about what you don’t like in our country.

I know none of this is particularly earth shattering or even new, but I also know we sometimes are lulled into thinking it doesn’t matter that much if we miss an election here or there. We don’t love the things we come to take for granted in our daily lives. For example, who thinks much about breathing until they suddenly can’t? We assume our democracy is solid, that voting is a right that will always be there. But if we the people don’t take our elections seriously, someone may step into power that has a different idea. Protecting our rights is up to each of us. The next few weeks will be interesting, and I am thankful people are engaged and voting in record numbers.

“Someone struggled for your right to vote. Use it.” Susan B. Anthony

Mass Hysteria

I have based my life’s work on the idea that the pen is mightier than the sword, that words matter because they can heal or hurt in so many ways. The misuse of words can cause us to do abominable, hurtful things to our fellow humans and can cause the phenomenon known as mass hysteria.

I think we are witnessing it now.

Mass hysteria is defined as a condition affecting a group of persons, characterized by excitement or anxiety, or irrational behavior or beliefs. It can also be an inexplicable illness, but that really isn’t pertinent to this discussion. It is often driven by fear.

Some people are consumed with the idea that the entire worldwide scientific community has conspired to submit the rest of us to the “hoax” of the coronavirus. Others are certain that we have Hollywood celebrities that drink children’s blood and adrenochrome and are secretly trafficking children and protecting pedophiles. Does any of this make any logical sense? Where are the facts to back up these ideas? The sheer repetition of such ideas can make them seem true, even when they are patently false.

What fuels mass hysteria is the power of suggestion. According to verywellmind.com, mass hysteria is related to groupthink. Dr. Irving L. Janis defined groupthink as “a psychological drive for consensus at any cost that suppresses dissent and appraisal of alternatives in cohesive decision-making groups.” If an idea is put forth strongly enough and frequently enough, people begin to believe it is true whether or not the evidence of truth is there. An example from early American history is the Salem Witchcraft Trials. Many of the women and men hanged for witchcraft were accused by a group of young girls, but no one saw anything solid or had any real evidence. Even the courts of the day began to take the word of the young girls over other, more steady voices in the community. And it turned out there were some underlying reasons that people were willing to let their fellow community members be labeled as witches: greed, jealously, covetousness. It was a bleak time in history.

I used to teach Arthur Miller’s play, “The Crucible”, and explained that he wrote it at a time in America when dissent was unsafe and speech was being curtailed by many different entities. In the early 1950s, to disagree with the administration in charge would result in being labeled a Socialist, Communist, or at the very least, a “sympathizer”. People lost their jobs because they received such labels, and many people were afraid to speak out. While reading “The Crucible”,students would say it seemed impossible to believe the court would let these lying girls send innocent people to their deaths. As Miller said, “the thought that the state has lost its mind and is punishing so many innocent people is intolerable. So the evidence has to be internally denied.”

Does that have a familiar ring to it?

“The Crucible” was about the Salem witchcraft trials, and a lot of parallels could be drawn between the mass hysteria of that time and the 1950s. Until it was finally disbanded, the House Committee on Un-American Activities, led by Senator Joe McCarthy, led a reign of terror that basically called anyone they didn’t like a Communist. I can see some disturbing similarities to that era and our present one. There is a ton of groupthink going on, and some of that has gotten so extreme that it could probably be termed as mass hysteria. A recent example is the moment in one of the Trump rallies where the crowd chants, “lock her up!” The subject of the chant? The governor of Michigan. In 2016, when the Christian author Max Lucado had the nerve to ask in one of his columns if people thought Trump was a decent man, he received death threats from other Christians. This is groupthink at its worst. I don’t have to point out that these are not people trying to be thoughtful citizens and voters. These are people caught up in the moment, chanting and saying things we can only hope most of them don’t really mean. And groupthink can occur on either side of the political arena, but the constant rallies by the Trump organization contribute to the groupthink phenomenon in a much more impactful and disturbing way.

The Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health said groupthink increases as group cohesiveness increases, which may help explain the phenomenon of mass hysteria. The group members feed off each other’s emotional reactions, causing the panic to escalate. Suddenly anyone who isn’t part of a certain group is a socialist, Marxist, or at the very least, a liberal. Most of this is pure foolishness. Is Colin Powell a socialist? He endorsed Joe Biden. What about Cindy McCain? The last time I checked, she was a very staunch Republican. In reality, I think most of the people who are voting for Biden want change. Saying that they are Socialist is like saying every Trump supporter wants a dictator.

I have heard the argument from some evangelicals that this election is a fight for good vs. evil. Again, that isn’t appealing to people’s rational thought processes, but is instead works to stoke fear and sets up a terrible dichotomy. There are plenty of Trump supporters who are troubled by the nasty, mean spirited things he says and tweets. There are plenty of Biden supporters who either think his policy ideas are too liberal (or not liberal enough). But good vs. evil? Please. This isn’t Satan vs. Jesus. This is a democratic election, and to act like either side can only be one or the other shows me that you are not being a thoughtful person. Our country needs independent thinkers who will analyze and make decisions, not based on the meme of the day or some other catch phrase of groupthink, but on what is really good for this country. We are not always going to agree on what that is, either. We never have.

I have friends who are Biden supporters but don’t want people to know because they fear people will start thinking they are somehow “un-American”. I also know some silent Trump supporters who disagree with Biden’s policies but are ashamed of Trump’s public antics and don’t want to be associated with that image. This makes me believe that groupthink is doing it’s job– making people believe that there is only one way to think, which is about as un-American as you can get.

I look forward to a time when we can have differences in opinions without resorting to name calling; to people actually listening to what a person with a different viewpoint says; and to a day when, even if we can’t agree with them, we call each other brother and sister and still show respect for one another at the end of the day.